Gila River flooding washing away houses, leaving debris fields in its wake

Road closures in Glenwood and parts of Grant and Catron Counties

By Christine Steele
csteele@scsun-news.comon Twitter @SCSunNews

Posted: 09/15/2013 06:43:33 PM MDT

Glenn Tolhurst, Grant County Search and Rescue. Search and Rescue volunteers from Grant... (null)

Glenn Tolhurst, Grant County Search and Rescue. Search and Rescue volunteers from Grant and Dona Ana County remove debris from Highway 15 leading to the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center after a surge on the Gila River washed over the road and left a giant logjam and debris field in its wake. (null)

SILVER CITY >> Unprecedented flooding of the Gila River has washed away at least two homes from the Gila Hot Springs area, witnesses said, and caused road damage and flooding in Glenwood and Mogollon, and the river is the fourth highest since data was first recorded back in 1928.

The river has spiked twice in the past week, said John Kramer, a Wilderness Trails and Recreation specialist with the Wilderness Ranger District on the Gila National Forest. The first spike, last Tuesday, saw the river go from a depth of about a foot and half to a depth of nine and a half feet, and a flow of 100 cubic feet per second to 11,100 cubic feet per second. That spike trapped a group of students and

Courtesy of the Gila National Forest and Cliff Dwellings volunteers. The Gila River flood surge left debris all over the road to the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center and nearly ripped this sign down. (null)

teachers from Aldo Leopold Charter School who had to be rescued after being stranded on the other side of the river and unable to cross safely. That spike also washed away campsites of two sets of campers in the Jordan Hot Springs area and they were both rescued by Grant County Search and Rescue on Saturday.
The most recent spike saw the river jump to a depth of 12 feet and a flow of 22,200 cubic feet per second, Kramer said, and that has caused roads and some structures to be washed away."The conditions are changing almost on an hourly basis," Kramer said late afternoon on Sunday. "The West Fork is about a foot from going over the Highway 15 bridge," he said. Both Kramer and Grant County Search and Rescue volunteer Stephane Luchini reported seeing structures being washed down the river. The Gila Hot Springs was reported to be totally submerged, as was Wildwood Resort Hot Springs. The Wilderness Lodge was reported to be OK. Highway 15 was closed past Doc Campbell's Post.
A second Search and Rescue mission was launched Saturday afternoon, for a party of five river runners who were reported to be on the river in inflatable kayaks, said incident commander Marc Levesque.

Courtesy of the Gila National Forest and Cliff Dwellings volunteers. Search and Rescue volunteers from Grant and Dona Ana counties cleared the road going to the Gila Visitor Center of debris on Saturday. (null)

A helicopter from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol took Levesque up with them and the trio spotted the rafters and talked to them over the P.A. system. The five were all locals and said to be experienced river runners and they signaled that they were fine and were going to continue downriver, Levesque said. "They were packed for a three day trip down the river and were well-prepared with life jackets, dry bags with food and water," he said. The search mission was the 18th mission this year alone, including four in Catron County. Levesque said Grant County Search and Rescue usually has about a dozen search missions a year and this year was unusually high - and we have yet to begin hunting or fall hiking season. There were reports of some hunters stranded in Catron County but no official word on whether there was a search going on for them.
A huge debris field covered the road into the Gila Visitor Center near the Cliff Dwellings National Monument on Saturday, trapping the Search and Rescue volunteers. After waiting about an hour for the New Mexico Department of Transportation to arrive, Search and Rescue volunteers from Grant and Dona Ana County got out and manually cleared the road, incident commander on the search Marc Levesque said.
The river receded but came up again, Kramer said, and the Gila Visitor Center and Cliff Dwellings, as well as campgrounds in the area, remain closed until conditions are evaluated.
Sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. Saturday night, another flood surge sent water and debris over Highway 180 in Glenwood, reported Andrea Martinez, public affairs officer on the Gila National Forest. N.M. 174 into the Catwalk closed, Martinez said, and both Whitewater Creek and Mineral Creek had high water levels and water ran over both the Whitewater and Mineral creek bridges in the Alma area.
There were reports of voluntary evacuations in Glenwood but official word on the damage there.
There were reports of major flooding and devastation over in the town of Mogollon, Paul Reed, of Farmington, N.M., wrote in an email to the Sun-News late Sunday afternoon.
Reed said he and his wife Tristan Kwiecinski own a family cabin that his wife's father Bill Kwiecinski built in 1975 and get to the town every few weeks in the summer.
"Over the last 60 days, the town has received over 25 inches of rain. The situation peaked late (Saturday) afternoon, as Silver Creek flash flooded, raging out of its banks and becoming a dangerous torrent," he wrote in an email to the Sun-News. "Every bridge along the creek was destroyed, including the Highway 159 bridge just below milepost marker 9 on the road. The power is out to the town. My wife and I are not in town - we had thought about going this weekend but changed our minds for a reason not related to the weather. Fortunately, the phones are still working and we have kept in contact with our neighbor Fred Wey. Fred has updated us on the situation. He is currently trapped in his Mogollon house by high water. We are hopeful that the Governor will approve funds for emergency repairs. Highway 159 is said to be damaged between milepost 8 and the town's western edge." Martinez with the Forest Service confirmed reports of damage to Mogollon and the Department of Transportation is reporting road closures at New Mexico 159 from 3.1 miles East of Mogollon at mile marker 10 to 34.3 miles East of Mogollon at mile marker 25, New Mexico 174 from mile marker 1 to 8.8 miles North of Glenwood at mile marker 4, New Mexico 211 from Gila at mile marker 3 to mile marker 4, and New Mexico 15 from 34.7 miles North of at mile marker 40 to mile marker 41 on its website
Christine Steele can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5802.